The History of the New York City Legislature

By Frederick Shaw | Go to book overview

6. THE GENESIS OF REFORM

The Cincinnati experiment has demonstrated the place of faith in politics. . . . There is faith in this movement . . . the type of religious conviction which is not fanatical; which is not even ecstatic; which is hard headed, and yet idealistic; a conviction, a faith that local good government is a possibility.--CHARLES P. TAFT, President of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America1

How COULD the moribund Board of Aldermen be resurrected? One school of reformers, the advocates of proportional representation, proposed to reconstruct it by making it more representative. Eventually they persuaded a Charter Revision Commission to offer this system of representation to the voters. When both charter and proportional representation won out at the polls, a campaign extending over many decades bore fruit.

The roots of the movement in the United States go back to the decade after the Civil War; the inspiration came from England. Many years later, the Hare system of representation, which was ultimately adopted for New York's municipal legislature, was to be stigmatized as a device "straight from the Kremlin"--an assertion that would have astonished and amused Thomas Hare, its inventor, and John Stuart Mill, its popularizer. A warm friend of both men, Simon Sterne, published an American adaptation of Hare's volume on the subject in 1871.2

Organizer, publicist, and promoter for the cause, Sterne helped found a Personal Representation Society, which aroused con

____________________
1
City Management: The Cincinnati Experiment ( New York, 1933), p. 237.
2
Hoag and Hallett, Prop. Rep., pp. 175-76, 183-85; John Foord, The Life and Public Services of Simon Sterne ( New York, 1903), pp. 5-7; Simon Sterne, On Representative Government and Personal Representation ( Philadelphia, 1871), pp. 9-12.

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